January 13, 2019
The Baptism of Christ /First Sunday after the Epiphany
Acts 8:14-17; Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
The Humble Start from Water
The celebration of the New Year
The holiday season is all over. I believe that most of you had already put away all the Christmas decorations. You have been already back to your ordinary life and take care of your daily routines as usual. However, it is still early in the New Year, and we want to share good wishes with one another.
If you remember, the world began the year of 2019 with spectacular fireworks and all kinds of exciting concerts. I saw on TV that every square was full of the crowds to celebrate the first day of the New Year. When the bells rang for the New Year, all the people shouted together “Happy New Year,” hoping, hugging, dancing and kissing each other.
Yes, people always get excited at the moment to see the old one out and the new one coming in. Why? It is simply because it is the first day of the New Year. We all want to refresh our mind and start our life journey again with celebration and with lots of hopes and dreams for the entire year. Beginning, whatever it is, is always special and important, and it deserves our celebration and attention.
Lots of people in the world greeted the New Year through all kinds of festivals and celebrations. How can we Christians greet a New Year or a new beginning? What is the biblical guideline about it? In the spirit of this New Year, I want to talk about where to begin and how to start our new journey?
How and where Jesus started
Before I get into today’s scripture, let me remind you of what we learned from the last Sunday… We started the season of Epiphany with the words from Isaiah “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you” (v. 1). The epiphany of Christ is the spiritual turning point of human destiny: from darkness to light; from death to resurrection. In the light of Christ, the world can see human sinfulness going out and God’s salvation and righteousness coming in. “Arise and shine” is what God has done for those who have received Jesus Christ in their hearts. And “Arise and shine” was what Jesus did for the sake of his salvation ministry for the world.
Yet let us look at the Gospel and see how Jesus started his salvation ministry. Once again, beginning is always special, and we want to start a new beginning with celebration and attention. Then, what about Jesus Christ? How did he start his ministry?
According to the passage from Luke’s Gospel, he only went to the Jordan River and received the Baptism from John the Baptist. That’s it! Unlike our way of starting our new year or new beginning, he started his public ministry without receiving any attention or celebration from the world. When he came to the water, John recognized Jesus was God’s special man who is far better than anyone else in the world including himself (v. 16). But Jesus only knelt down before John and allowed him to baptize him.
Isn’t it so impressive that Jesus chose to begin his ministry at a site of water? As a divine King, he could have chosen going to the Jerusalem Temple or the Roman government and simply announced that he is the true King or God’s Messiah. But this divine King began at a humble place of water just to bathe his own body.
He started out humbly— being born in a manger to humble parents, Mary and Joseph— and he continued that humble pattern, beginning his ministry at the water without any celebration. Because of his quiet way, no one knew that he was God’s Messiah; the world even didn’t know that God had already sent the Savior. With none knowing anything else, Jesus was preparing himself alone in the water to carry out the most important thing that has been done in human history, which is God’s salvation work.
But there was someone who knew why Jesus came to the River and what he was doing there – it was God! When he was baptized, “heaven was opened, the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove, and a voice of God came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased” (vv. 21-22). Those words are the divine signs that God accepted Jesus and blessed his life and ministry.
After his own baptism we will see how Jesus came out to the world and how he rescued people and brought them to God’s grace. As you already know, he healed many sick people and cast away demons; he calmed down storms with several words; he fed more than 5,000 crowds with five loaves and two fishes in the wilderness; he brought the dead man Lazarus back to life; he was killed and buried in a tomb, but three days later he rose from the dead; and by his own death and resurrection, he finally opened the way of God’s salvation to all humanity.
In history, who would dare to be compared to Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world? But before we talk about those wonderful works that he showed us, we must recognize where and how he started his ministry. It was the simple water where he purified his body and mind and offered his life to God. So we can say that his own humble submission to God was the foundation on which he started and fulfilled God’s salvation work.
I am not sure whether God was there in the public squares where people gathered together to celebrate and shout together “Happy New Year and God bless you.” But reflecting on Jesus’ experience at the water, I am sure that God is present in our humble heart longing for his grace and mercy. I am also sure that all of our wishes for this year and the years to come may be provided and fulfilled at the moment when we kneel to pray to God.
Starting New Year
Now we are beginning our New Year, 2019. When we begin something new, we always expect to make a good start and achieve all our wishes successfully. This New Year, I wish and pray that your life may be full of joy; you may be healed and recover your health; all of your dreams and hopes would come true. For our ministry, I wish and pray that we grow our worship and ministry; we may bear much more fruits to glorify God; we may reach out to our neighbors and show God’s grace and power for them, so that our sanctuary will be full of members and worshipers.
But before we start a new beginning with this kind of passion and hope, today’s scripture teaches us that the first step we have to make is to turn and submit ourselves to God who has the power to provide all the steps of God’s servants.
As we are looking forward to this New Year, let us offer ourselves humbly to God through our baptismal spirit and daily prayer. When we kneel down before the Lord, God will open our doors, minds and hearts; God will offer us all the gifts we need for our life journey. Our humble submission to God must be the foundation of our life journey. Amen.